By Justin Rossow
It’s Christmas Eve, and my daughter was supposed to be home three days ago. She made it to the Minneapolis airport. She made it onto the plane. She waited patiently with the rest of the passengers for deicing. But the line was long and the pilot’s clock was short, and the flight got canceled. That was Day 1. It ended with booking the next available flight–by that time, Friday evening, with a connection in Atlanta. Day 2 was spent (thankfully) at a friend’s house, waiting for Day 3.
The flight to Atlanta went smoothly, but my daughter’s fears were realized: the last leg into Detroit got canceled, just before take off. No available flights on any airlines. Rebook for Day 4, Christmas Eve, arriving just before midnight. Nineteen and flying alone, coming home from college for Christmas, and all they had for her at the “help” desk was, “Sorry, we are out of hotel vouchers.” That must have felt like, “No Room in the Inn.”
I am so thankful a dear friend of a dear friend lives close enough to the Atlanta airport to pick my girl up and host her until her Christmas Eve flight. And we are left waiting to see if she makes it home this time.
My wife and I have been celebrating Christmas Eve on Christmas Eve Eve, and Christmas Morning on Christmas Eve Morning, since we first started having kids. I often had to work Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, and we always had other family to visit. We kept the tradition of celebrating on December 23/24 because then we don’t bump into other family schedules. Of course, with one of our family still on the way home, we won’t be opening presents this morning. And of course, that means rearranging plans with other family Christmas celebrations. We’ll just be glad when Liz gets home, whenever that is … This is turning into kind of a messy Christmas.
Last Sunday, I was reminded of how messy that first Christmas actually was. I was sharing a worship folder with my 12-year-old son, when we had to read out loud together the words from Matthew’s Christmas narrative:
This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit.
Matthew 1:18 (NIV)
The euphemism for “having sex” jarred me a little, sitting there in church, saying it out loud with my preteen boy. In a split second, I wondered if the meaning of that phrase registered in his awareness, and what he thought about it.
Then we almost immediately had to say the word “pregnant.” Which, culturally, doesn’t matter any more, but standing next to my son I was suddenly reminded that my grandmother, who grew up on some version of the RSV or King James (“before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Ghost”), treated “pregnant” as an embarrassing and private word you would never say in public, even to a woman who was “with child.”
Here we are, sitting in worship, talking about Christmas, and sex, and being pregnant. The text continues with Joseph considering divorce (also a shock just a couple of generations ago), but in the nick of time, a promise that this Child is not only from the Holy Spirit, this miraculous baby is Immanuel, “God with us.”
And that’s really the whole point of Christmas: Jesus is God with us, right in the middle of the mess.
If, after four days of travel, you are still trying to get home for Christmas, with thousands of flights being canceled and impassable roadways and there’s no room for you in the Motel 6, Jesus is still God with you.
If you are crammed into a house with a bunch of relatives you love (but don’t always like) and tensions are high and you can see the brokenness of fallen creation at work in your own family (and in your own heart), Jesus is still God with you.
If you are marking the death of a loved one (my grandma, who wouldn’t say “pregnant,” died ten years ago today); or if you are fighting cancer, or waiting for a diagnosis, or have an invasive surgery scheduled for the new year (I have loved ones in all of those categories); or if you are not sure what you are supposed to do next, or if your life isn’t going the way you thought, or if your Christmas is not going to plan, this is exactly why Jesus came.
Jesus came as Immanuel, right in the midst of all the mess. Jesus enters into the mess, to dwell with messy people, and to be God, with us, in the mess.
It doesn’t matter how messy your Christmas is this year, or any year. You can be happy or sad, joyful or struggling, lonely or surrounded by people–or maybe a little of all of those.
But no matter what your mess looks like this Christmas, Jesus is still with you and for you. Jesus is our future hope and our present joy. Jesus is God, with us.